Thursday, February 3, 2011

To Fear Heaven.

What a strange title, isn’t it? I think so too and I wrote it! Normally one would expect a fear of something to include spiders, or heights, or snakes, or water, but heaven? Who in their right mind would be afraid of heaven? After all, heaven is heaven. It is bliss in every meaning of the word. It is freedom from pain, from suffering, from tears, from evil, from sin, from burden, from guilt, from life, from death. In heaven a person gets to live forever. Not only do we get to live forever, we get to spend that time with Jesus, standing in the presence of God. In the presence of God, and letting his love and grace and mercy and righteousness and holiness and peace just wash over us. What is there to fear in that? Any rational person would say there wasn’t, right?

That’s just the problem. There are people who, for various reasons, have a very real fear of heaven. Yet, no one ever talks about it because the majority view even the mere thought of such a fear occurring as ridiculous. Because of this view, those who do suffer are afraid to say anything at the risk of being seen as foolish. Their silence on the subject only entrenches in others minds the belief that a fear of heaven is absurd, simply because they’ve never met someone who was. Suddenly we find ourselves back at the beginning of the vicious circle.

So what would you do if you were afraid of heaven? Who would you turn to and ask for help? Who could you talk to that wouldn’t look at you strangely and wonder if you were alright in the head? As you contemplate these questions, I’d like you to consider it from all angles, not just at your current age, but also from when you were much younger as well. I can honestly say from a very young age that my greatest fear was indeed dying and going to heaven. I was terrified of the idea. I would have panic attacks simply by thinking about, or hearing the word. Panic attacks that I, of course, hid from others with a vengeance. For years this fear haunted me. For years I strove to overcome it, finally giving up and trying to stifle it as best I could.

It wasn’t until much later that I finally had one of the most important realizations of my life. My epiphany boiled down to understanding that there really was no reason to fear heaven. An ideal already firmly believed by many, and which up until that moment in time I could not even comprehend without having a mini heart-attack. Perhaps my story and others will help to shed a little light, and understanding, on a subject that severely needs to be dusted off and examined.

My Story

For as long as I can remember (which sometimes isn’t as far back as I would like) I have been terrified of one thing, heaven. However, no matter how scared I got, I never said anything to anyone because I knew that my fear was wrong. Instead of realizing that there were loving people around me who could probably help me through this, at the wee age of five or six, I could not comprehend how anyone could possibly understand my fear. I rationalized with my young logic that I would most likely be ostracized if I told even my parents. There of course, was no basis for this rationalization. I lived in a loving home, and have always been a part of a loving church. Despite these facts, this was where I found myself, not yet able to comprehend the beauty of what God had planned, but old enough to twist it around to where it terrified me. It was at this young age that I began the task of concealing my fear.

I vaguely remember waking up from dreams, terrified, because I had dreamed I’d died and gone to heaven. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I was finally able to realize why I was afraid. This didn’t help, rather, it accentuated the matter. Now I could be tormented by very direct thoughts and ideas, rather than vague ones. What I realized, and I do not remember at what age, was that I was petrified of the idea of living forever. The idea of going on, and on, and on, and on, and never, ever, ending. That one sentence, spoken or thought, was enough to send me into a squirming fit. I could not rationalize this idea, and that terrified me. How could there not be an end? There was always an end to everything.

So I got older, and I shoved the fear deeper down inside me. Strangely enough, or perhaps not, this didn’t seem to help. In fact it made my fear worse. The more I avoided it, the bigger it got. The more grasp it had on me, the harder it got to think about. It reached a point to where if I heard someone speaking about heaven, I would immediately put all of my effort into thinking about something else, anything else. Eventually, I would stop hyperventilating enough to carry on with whatever I was doing beforehand. No matter what I did though, the fear was there, waiting to paralyze me.

Paralysis is what I lived with, not in the literal sense, I could still move, I could still speak, but I was paralyzed in my mind. I could be consumed by this fear at any moment. I wouldn’t be able to put a coherent thought together until I had, somehow, shoved it aside.

Finally, I could take it no longer, I was desperate. After weeks of working up the courage, I sat down and emailed my pastor. The answer is one that I saved for years, and lost in the coughing and wheezing fit of my (now retired) dying computer. Still, I remember what was said, having re-read it a few times when panic made its move. My pastor asked me what it was I feared, and when I told him, he didn’t laugh and he was not condescending, as I had convinced myself for most of my young life that he (or any adult) would be. Instead he began to work with me. He asked me since I didn’t want to live forever, how long would I like to spend in heaven? I didn’t know, I didn’t care, just so long as there was an end. So he suggested a hundred years. That sounded good to me. That was one lifetime, a little more than I would spend on earth, but a lifetime none the less. So a hundred years it was. Then he began to describe a scenario for me.

I was in heaven. It was beautiful. I was happy. Happier than I had ever been, I was enjoying life and others, basking in God’s glory. Suddenly, I was informed that my time was up. I had to go, but I wasn’t ready. I wanted to stay. Too bad, the end had come. It was over, I had no choice.

This was my scenario. This, my pastor informed me, was what I wanted. This was what I was describing to him, whether I realized it or not. I was shocked by the information. I understood completely. I wanted there to be an end, but what if, when the time came, I wasn’t ready. How horrible would it be? What torture.

I kindly thanked my pastor, and proceeded to live my life. For a long time, that conversation held at bay the paralyzing fear I had lived with. Then suddenly, one day, it was no longer enough. I did not know what had caused an imbalance in my life once more, but I found myself again, terrified. The email conversation no longer helped. The nightmares returned. I couldn’t bring myself to speak to my pastor again. I was afraid. Afraid that he would think I was weak. He’d solved my problem once, what was wrong with me now? So I began once again to bury the fear deep within me. I was back to living with my paralyzing fear.

Then one day, everything changed. Years had passed by. My life had become a whirlpool of chaos. I had experienced the grief of loss, and the black hole of despair that followed. It had been a year and some since then, but it still ate away at me. That day, the day that it all changed, I was sitting in my car after driving home from work. The radio had been on, I hadn’t really been listening. A song began to play as I parked by the driveway. It snatched my attention, and tears filled my eyes. Suddenly I knew, suddenly I understood.

The song was “There will be a Day” by Jeremy Camp.

"I try to hold on to this world with everything I have
But I feel the weight of what it brings, and the hurt that tries to grab
The many trials that seem to never end, His word declares this truth,
that we will enter in this rest with wonders anew

But I hold on to this hope and the promise that He brings

That there will be a place with no more suffering

There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears

There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more, we’ll see Jesus face to face
But until that day, we’ll hold on to you always

I know the journey seems so long

You feel you’re walking on your own
But there has never been a step
Where you’ve walked out all alone

Troubled soul don’t lose your heart

Cause joy and peace he brings
And the beauty that’s in store
Outweighs the hurt of life’s sting

I can’t wait until that day where the very one I’ve lived for always will wipe away the sorrow that I’ve faced

To touch the scars that rescued me from a life of shame and misery this is why this is why I sing….

There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears

There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more, we’ll see Jesus face to face

There will be a day, He’ll wipe away the stains, He’ll wipe away the tears, He’ll wipe away the tears…..there will be a day.”

These lyrics, this song made it all very clear to me. The words that had been said to me time and time again, “there is no pain in heaven, no death, no suffering”, finally had meaning to me. Now I understood. Heaven terrified me because I had been weighing my personal picture of heaven against my own personal life’s experience. Unconsciously I knew that I had never known real pain, real loss, thus I had imagined heaven as an extension of Earth. So, sure life was great on Earth, and so heaven must also, but I certainly didn’t want to live there forever. Up to that point in my life, my fear had far outweighed anything I had experienced. Now however, now my life, my loss, far outweighed any fear I had.

This realization was liberating, but it also made me concerned. How many others were in the position I had been in? How many others were terrified because of an image that they had created? How many others were petrified of something they could not understand? How many were scared simply because they had yet to experience something that outweighed their fear? How many believed they were alone, with no one to talk to?

So I'm here to say, you are not alone. This is nothing to be ashamed of. People will not think you are crazy. Talk to someone, it will help.